Denver’s forgotten man

By Mark Kiszla
Updated: January 12, 2011

DENVER — Left out in the cold by the Nuggets, feeling betrayed by an NBA team he loves, point guard Chauncey Billups stood in the frigid winter air of the Pepsi Center parking lot and said, “Money ain’t everything.”

Denver loves Billups. You can’t put a price on the relationship between this city and its homegrown hero. We don’t want to see Billups go.

But the Nuggets want to dump Billups and his salary, if that’s what it takes to facilitate a trade of Carmelo Anthony to the New Jersey Nets.

Could the Nuggets really be so clueless? All Anthony wants to do is get out of Denver. All Billups wants to do is lead a victory parade through the streets of his hometown.

Here’s the essential reason why Billups already owns an NBA championship ring and why Anthony might never obtain the lone bling that truly shines in this league.

While Anthony’s top priority seems to be admiring his 50-foot-tall mug on a billboard in Times Square, what Billups really craves is one last shot at winning it all.

Although it appears Anthony might drag along Billups to the wretched Nets, don’t be surprised if the 34-year- old point guard looks to escape the swamps of Jersey with as much money as possible to seek a roster spot on a team that truly values his championship pedigree.

“When you’re forced in a position where you have to look out for yourself and your family, making the best living you possibly can becomes A1,” Billups told me Tuesday. “But you try to win, as well. If you can do both, it’s ideal.”

With a team option that could pay him $14 million next season, would Billups really consider sacrificing guaranteed money from the Nets to end his career with the Lakers, Magic or some bona fide contender that could use his steady hand in the backcourt?

“That’s a really good question,” Billups said. “All I can say is: Money ain’t everything.” Inexperienced general manager Masai Ujiri has been unable to close a deal that will shape the Nuggets for years to come.

Ujiri, however, has managed to aggravate and alienate the two biggest stars on a team going through the motions. Before overcoming a painfully slow start to defeat Phoenix 132-98, the home crowd was so lifeless it had trouble working up the passion to boo Anthony and his wife, LaLa Vazquez, for seeking a new life in New York.

“She had nothing to do with me staying here or me leaving. So please, keep her out of it,” said Anthony, clearly irked.

Although too professional to show his anger in public, confidants of Billups know the truth. The team has needlessly infuriated an athlete with deep Colorado roots.

Antonio McDyess was traded from Denver in 2002, the last time the Nuggets scraped off and rebuilt the franchise. Among Billups’ closest friends in basketball, he has detected the pain as they’ve talked on the phone in recent days.

“Regardless of if (Billups) gets traded or not, it’s just that situation of ‘Do they even want me here?’ I think the most important thing is it kind of hurts your play,” McDyess told the San Antonio Express-News.

“You sit there and think, ‘Hey, this team doesn’t even want me, but I’m out here busting my behind for them.’ “

The strain is showing on Billups’ game. A player who has always been more about bringing the passion than padding his statistics struggled to score seven points against the Suns.

“Basketball is going to be basketball. I’m going to play that anywhere. But the family part is the most difficult situation,” said Billups, whom we’ve watched grow up from a phenom at George Washington High School to a father with a wife and three daughters.

“My girls are old enough that they know. They hear fans saying, ‘We’re going to miss you.’ ” Billups believes if the Nuggets kept him, there would be no need to rebuild from square one.

So in a league where you can’t crash the boards without bumping into a millionaire but loyalty is as rare as a player without a tattoo, let me get this straight:

To ensure the happiness of Anthony, who wants nothing to do with us in Colorado, the Nuggets are going to mess with Billups, who has always been and will always be one of us.

It makes zero sense. The team is doing Billups wrong.

Can Nuggets management buy a vowel? Or at least a brain cell?